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Bloc Quebecois Gets a Coup on the Tête

MONTREAL (CN) - The separatist Bloc Quebecois took a devastating blow in this week's elections, losing its two-decade-old status as the province's ruling party, and reduced from 47 to just 4 seats in the national Parliament - eight seats short of the number needed for official party status.

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe resigned as party leader as the votes were tallied, telling the party faithful, "I am leaving you, but others will follow, until Quebec becomes a country."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept his job, winning a majority Conservative government, making the New Democratic Party, led by Jack Layton, the new official opposition. The NDP won 60 of Quebec's 75 seats.

With loss of its official status, the Bloc Quebecois will also lose funding for its staff, putting the party's future in doubt.

Quebec voted to remain a part of Canada in 1980 and 1995, against the wishes of the Bloc Quebecois.

Quebec was founded by French settlers around 1534. The province's nationalist movement stems largely from the language issue.

Quebec nationalists have long said that the rest of Canada fails to appreciate the cultural uniqueness of the province, and say they are fighting to preserve the French language.

But Quebec has seen an ever-increasing English-speaking population, low birth rates among Francophones, and many of its young people have been leaving to seek college education in English, or moving to Ontario and other provinces in search of jobs.

Quebec's Bill 101 restricts access to English-language elementary and secondary schools to children of parents who studied in English in Canada. The law sparked tension and heated debates in Quebec, with many people deeming it oppressive and a form of language policing.

Quebec does have a language police, the Office Quebecoise de la Language Francaise, to ensure that services such as signs and telephone service are offered in French.

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